The Link between Spray Tans and Cancer

Some people can't live without a sun tan, but research shows that too many ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer. With this unsettling news, many diehard tanners opted for tanning beds thinking that this method was safer than tanning in the sun. Unfortunately, the ultraviolet rays from the sun that cause skin cancer are the same rays that are available through a tanning bed.

The latest trend in keeping skin golden is the spray tan.Spray tanning can be professionally applied, or it can be applied at home with products available through many grocery and department stores.

What tanners may not want to know is that this type of tanning may be just as dangerous to the health as a tanning bed. The active chemical ingredient found in tanning lotions and sprays, called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), may raise risks for developing cancer.

Originally, DHA was approved for use as a tanning cream in the 1970s by the FDA, but a spray form of the product was created for a more even application. Because safety data is not available, use of DHA as a body spray in tanning booths has not been approved by the FDA.

Without approval, the FDA warns against spraying DHA near the mouth, eyes, or nose, but the warnings often go unheeded. The FDA also recommends spray tan users wear protective undergarments and eyewear, a nose filter and lip balm, but these warnings are often ignored as well by individuals and by many spray tan salons.

Recently, a panel of experts contacted by ABC news reviewed ten studies examining the effects of DHA. While it had been thought that DHA reacts purely with dead cells on the surface of the skin, the experts found that roughly 11 percent of DHA in tanning products is absorbed by living skin cells. In addition, it was found that when DHA was added to a variety of animal cells and organisms in a petri dish, genetic mutations occurred.

Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of the School of Public Health at George Washington University told ABC News, 'What we're concerned about is not so much that reaction that creates the tanning, but reactions that may occur deeper down with living cells that might then change DNA." She further stated, "I'd be very concerned for the potential of lung cancer."

At highest risk are individuals who frequently engage in spray tanning and those who work in spray-tan salons.Pregnant women are advised to avoid products with DHA, and some experts also have concerns for children who are exposed to spray tanning such as those who frequently participate in beauty pageants.

Because no human studies have been conducted, the effects of DHA on human cells remain uncertain. In lieu of solid, scientific proof that DHA is harmful, tanners can ensure a safer experience with these tips.

  • Choose creams and gels over mists and sprays.
  • Choose a well-ventilated area for use of any tanning product.
  • If utilizing a commercial spray tanning booth, ask for goggles, nose filters and lip protection.


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